Electrically conductive inks make any surface interactive07 / May / 2020
Imagine that the TV channels are switched simply by moving your hand over the armrest of the chair, and the brightness of the light bulb changes in one gesture. Now it's possible.
Since the early 1990s, scientists studying human interaction with computers have envisioned a world in which digital user interfaces easily integrate with the physical environment and eventually become inseparable from one another.
One of the biggest challenges in securing this future is the integration of sensors and display elements with physical objects, as the production of interactive surfaces requires many design solutions, including how to place elements on different materials and how to apply them on uneven surfaces.
The technology, called Sprayable User Interfaces, developed by researchers at MIT, University of Bristol and University of Bath in the UK, combines a conductive copper ink layer capable of detecting touches with a microcontroller that connects to and responds to the ink. Interfaces work on uneven surfaces, and even in high humidity environments (which means they can be used even outside).
All you have to do is touch the wall and music will play. Picture: MIT CSAIL
Thanks to the use of special ink, the drawing actually connects to the gadgets. For example, it is enough to touch the wall in the office to play music.
Scientists note that unlike inkjet, stencil or 3D-printing, spraying is not limited to a certain volume and area, so it can be applied to entire walls or even facades of buildings, as graffiti.
"Our work contributes to the concept of combining digital user interfaces with the physical environment and extends it to large-scale interactive surfaces," says the study published in HCI English MIT EDU.
Curved touchscreens in smart cities will tell tourists about attractions. Picture: MIT CSAIL
Although it will take some time for the technology to be universally adopted and commercialized, one day it can be used as part of smart buildings or intelligent architecture - stencil-screen airbrushing projects that can respond to our touches.
An ink system can react not only to a touch, but also to gestures - for example, to adjust the brightness of the light, all you have to do is swipe your fingers near the stencil, or wave your hand to open the door. You can also display the image on the electroluminescent display.
To create interactive surfaces, you need an airbrush, functional copper ink and safety tools (gloves, safety goggles and a respirator to avoid direct contact and ink inhalation). Picture: MIT CSAIL
While these systems require some advanced planning and design to produce the original stencils and to ensure that the conductive ink is positioned correctly on the surface, the method is relatively easy to implement with a simple airbrush. And the user interface elements can be of any design.